Why would a University of Ghana law professor noted for his high intellectual ceiling and gentleness allowed himself to be disturbingly shadowed by a military officer turned junta leader turned civilian president, attempting to avoid the excesses of a military regime turned civilian democratic regime? Because he is John Atta Mills and, over twenty years taught law and did other academic administrative works at the law faculty of the University of Ghana, he's running for president of Ghana. No, wait. It appears acting for Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, the man who has dominated Ghana's political scene for the past twenty years. It's an incongruous and depressing spectacle.
There is, in a muted way, quite a lot to be said for Atta Mills. Watch him answering questions from the media and see how he handles the issues well: he's good at thoughtful policy discussion. His long years at the University of Ghana haven't been wasted He understand human-centred issues. Maybe he still looks curiously lumpen on the stump but his Cape Coast convention speech was decently eloquent. And he gave his audience hamster the kiss of life.
In sum the main opposition party National Democratic Congress (NDC)'s Atta Mills and Mumuni, his temporarily disabled running mate, make a balanced team – mixed gravitas and grin – which, nationally, is probably just ahead of the ruling National Patriotic Party's John Kufour and Aliu Mahama – mixed gawp and grizzle – and doing rather better than that in a majority of battleground areas such as the Northern and Volta regions where vaguely the December 7 elections will be won and lost. So far, so promising. But somehow you feel that the real contest isn't joined yet – and meanwhile Atta Mills keeps on campaigning under the long shadow of his former boss Jerry Rawlings, a nervous convulsion.
We know why Mills does it. Some bright spark, long ago on the primary campaign trail, decided that Atta Mills brief, old moment of heroism in joining the now battered Rawlings hardline military juntas (the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) in an attempt to bring human face to Rawlings hard face could be revamped point-counter-point against Kufour's more mysterious purely civilian regime born out of democratic ethos. But the point, not to mention the counter-point, is pretty exhausted now.
It isn't just the predictable emergence of Jerry Rawlings stumping the NDC campaign trail, heavily dominating the main presidential candidate Atta Mills. It is the way the whole nature of the general elections campaign and its ensuing debates are confined by its pseudo-military posturing – Rawlings threats of military coups and other West African dark metaphysical rains flashing should the ruling NPP win, a situation that has prompted Ghana's Council of State enjoining people to pray and fast for a peaceful and sober elections in a region suffering from a West African Oedipus Complex, a process of yearning for civil wars, coup detats, violence and general instability. In a way, this makes Atta Mills as one-dimensional as Rawlings mostly unpleasant campaign talks, a reflection of Rawlings as the leading campaign person in NDC trail. Atta Mills straight persona and his professorial comportment say he should be standing in front of a blackboard at Legon and teaching law. But when his lips move, they mouth nervous clauses and cautious caveats. Mills is playing simple in a complex NDC and Ghanaian politics, where Rawlings complex persona dwarfs his clean image, a situation that engulfs the whole Ghana. Who needs another Rawlings candidate flubbing his painful script and playing stupid? But when dark mouth and military don't match, the result is painfully obvious. “Sankofa!” cry Atta Mills and his NDC. Atta Mills engages in brain and changes his mind! Who in Ghana and in the diaspora can re-invent NDC's campaign of “Sankofa?”
Some of Kufour's charges against Atta Mills' NDC are dim – a charge more emanating from the brutal military origin of the NDC. The president calls Atta Mills a Rawlings conduit to the Osu Castle, for instance. But mis-branding of Atta Mills is more of politics than anything Ghanaians are hungry for. Anyone who sits at Ghana's parliament has his/her party to worry about – and inconsistency comes as inevitable as politics. With short incursion into Ghanaian politics, Atta Mills has short political record as such his mentor Rawlings, with long political record, has to be vulnerable to easy hits by NPP and other small parties. For sometime now, Atta Mills can perhaps explain and defuse them, sometimes tactically distancing himself from the Rawlings years of human rights violations and corruption. But a former law teacher sets himself up as something different, something above politics.
Atta Mills is stuck now with a hollow, unhelpful role – mired in years of NDC's military origin, doomed to renounce nuances or balances. But as an intellectual of international repute he knows about Rawlings' NDC before joining it. An answer that both Atta Mills and Rawlings might privately echo. But Atta Mills can't do hypotheticals or hindsight. As the campaign nearly comes to a close, Atta Mills has to be straight and clear. So, yes, he has to distance himself from Rawlings' unpleasant talks, which is increasingly putting off the large uncommitted, floating youthful voters.
By campaign full time as if he is a presidential candidate, the 2004 elections is more or less a Rawlings centred of a campaign, dwarfing Atta Mills' campaigns. What about if Rawlings had stayed out of the campaign and Atta Mills had had full campaiging to do? That question would be fully answered in future as Rawlings fade away in future electoral campaigns. For now, the 2004 general elections had been a Rawlings centred campaign, unfortunately. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.